http://northernrenaissance.org | ISSN: 1759-3085

Creative Commons License

Published under an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported Creative Commons License.

You are free to share, copy and transmit this work under the following conditions:

Issue 4 (2012) - Natio Scota

The ‘Silkin Schakillis’ of Lichtoun’s Dream

Janet Hadley Williams

[1]  The poem in Older Scots beginning with the engaging question, ‘Quha doutis dremis is bot phantasye?’, has been neglected but not ignored altogether by literary scholars. Hughes and Ramson (1982: 122–33) discuss the poem and how its place in Bannatyne’s miscellany helps to explain, they argue, the medieval and Renaissance uses of poetry revealed by the five-part ordering of manuscript contents. More often, critics mention ‘Quha doutis?’ with other comic verse described as ‘eldritch’ or as ‘elrich fantasyis’, as in, for instance, C. S. Lewis’s overview (1954: 69–72); Priscilla Bawcutt’s studies identifying these poems’ differences, in tone and control, from those of Dunbar (1989: 162–78; 1992: 257–92); and Keely Fisher’s more detailed commentary, again within a survey of such verse (2005: 292–313).

[2]  Though somewhat sparse, this critical notice has advanced our understanding of ‘Quha doutis?’ It has meant, for example, recognition of the poem’s place in a Scottish tradition of ‘grotesque invention’ (Lewis 1954: 72), and the distinguishing of ‘Quha doutis?’ from those early comic poems (such as ‘The Wyf of Auchtirmwchty’ Ritchie 1928–34: 320–24), written in a ‘basically realistic’ and ‘rational’ mode (Hughes and Ramson 1982: 124; Aitken 1983: 23; Bawcutt 1989: 163). It has also drawn brief attention (from the poem’s inclusion among Bannatyne’s ‘ballettis mirry’) to the difficult investigation of what was considered comic in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Yet other aspects of the poem—including matters of witness authority and language, of authorship and first-person narrative, title, and genre—have been partly obscured or inadequately considered. The present discussion, based on a fresh edition of ‘Quha doutis’ for the Scottish Text Society, attempts to bring several of these areas of study into sharper focus.

[3]  ‘Quha doutis?’ exists in two versions, both in manuscript miscellanies of the later sixteenth century: Edinburgh, NLS Adv. MS 1.1.6 (Bannatyne = B), folios 101r–102r, and Cambridge, Magdalene College, Pepys Library, MS 2553 (Maitland = MF), pp. 152–55 (For diplomatic printed editions, see Ritchie 1928–34: II.268-71, and Craigie 1919–27: I.173-75). The versions are similar, each with ninety lines of predominantly five-stress rhyming couplets and a comparably-ordered narrative content. There are, however, many differences in the two texts that cannot always be explained as evidence of scribal inattention or corruption. These differences can concern one or two words: in the opening line, for example, B’s ‘bot phantasye’ is replaced in MF by ‘greit fantasye’; in line 35, ‘pullit up sailis’ (B) becomes ‘wand vp saill’ (MF). Yet while these changes in sense and word choice are substantive they do not offer guidance on which manuscript has greater authority. The same conclusion may be drawn from more extensive differences, such as those in line 29. B’s ‘In Burgonye, Burdeaux and in Bethleem’ has only Bethlehem and alliteration in common with MF’s ‘In Bulloun, Burges and Bethleem [In Boulogne, Bruges…]’, and does not permit one or the other witness to have over-riding authority.

[4]  Such examples are joined by more problematic differences. The nonsense of B’s ‘know [knoll]’ of cream, for instance, becomes a reasonable association in MF’s ‘kirne [churn]’ of cream; yet it could be argued that B makes better sense in the illogical context of a poem in which the dreamer, having asserted, ‘I brak my heid vpoun ane know of reme’, then says he ‘[d]rank of ane well that wes gane drye sevin ȝeir’ (23). Changes through editorial intervention cannot be ruled out (Bawcutt 1998: 13–15), nor can they be proven, except in instances such as that at line 59, where B has ‘in ane fair medow’ and MF ‘on ane fair medow’. None is to do with re-writing in conformity with Protestant dogma, a type of interference elsewhere associated with Bannatyne.[1]

[5]  Changes that appear to modernize older linguistic usage require caution. The example of B’s use of ‘Bot than’ where MF has ‘Bot syn’ (52) is a case in point, since B’s word, although now better understood than MF’s, was no modern substitution (See DOST, Than, Then, adv. B and MF both use syne at line 84). Although differing word choices might reveal a later scribal  preference, the information about the two exemplars (if indeed there were two) of B and MF that is necessary to establish the exact relationship between them, the copyists and, at best, the author’s own copy, is not available.

[6]  Gathered together, however, the differences noted here admit the possibility that the versions were not copied from the same exemplar. Yet if the existence of more than one exemplar would support an argument, implied by the poem’s occurrence in two late manuscripts, for its circulation in the sixteenth-century, and thus its composition before then, a more precise determination of the composition date is difficult. Following Bawcutt (1992: 258), the late fifteenth- or early sixteenth century therefore is provisionally suggested.

[7]  Authorship of ‘Quha doutis?’, with the potential to assist in establishing a documented context for the poem, is of immediate interest. Unattributed in MF, the poem in B has the colophon, ‘Explicit quod Lichtoun monicus [The end said Lichtoun monk]’. Bannatyne also attributes a second poem to ‘Lichtoun monicus’ (on folio 48r), ‘O mortall man remembir nycht and day’, a work of six eight-line ballade stanzas. Its sobering refrain, ‘Memento homo quod cinis es’, linked to penitential Lenten observance, is also chosen by Dunbar (Bawcutt 1998: 359). The existence of this poem by Lichtoun adds support to the suggestion that, if the same Lichtoun was the author of both, he was indeed a cleric.

[8]  Within ‘Quha doutis?’ there are a few potential clues to the author. The poem’s wittily impossible words, ‘raip of sand’ (8) belong to the world of the scholar or churchman. Variations on the phrase had been used in classical times—for instance, by Aristides in De quattuor and Columella in Res Rustica—and had reappeared at the time of renewed humanist interest in biblical and classical studies; as, for example, in the Adages of Erasmus, I, iv, 78 (‘Ex arena funiculum nectis [You are twisting a rope of sand]’).[2] Another tiny hint of the clerical appears nine lines later, when the poet describes his escape from a delusory imprisonment: ‘[I] kest my self… / Outthruch the volt and percit nocht the pend’ (17–18). In the allusion to a vaulted ceiling and an arch, there is, fleetingly, a possible monastic image.

[9]  Evidence of the poet’s education might be found in the poem’s opening question, recalling the university practice of formal disputation. The comparable challenge of Douglas’s opening to Eneados VIII Prol. 1, ‘Of dreflyng and dremys quhat dow it to endyte [Of disturbance and dreams, is it of value to record]?’ (1957–64: III.117), is instructive. Did the poet Lichtoun, like Douglas (who was a St Andrews University Arts graduate), have training in logic and disputation (Bawcutt 1976: 26, 173; Durkan and Kirk 1977: 88–91; Macfarlane 1985: 362–72; Broadie 1990: 1–91; Evans 2004: 2–5)? Further possible evidence of university training is found in the poem’s reference to the conjunction of moon and sun and the resultant solar eclipse (48–53). This points to a familiarity with the astronomical concepts, which were introduced to quadrivium-stage university students in textbooks such as Sacro Bosco’s De Sphaera Mundi.

[10]  Clues to the poet’s circumstances might also be found in the use of biblical themes and persons: the poem contains direct allusions to Paradise, Adam, Enoch, Elijah, Noah and, through the references to the whales’ voracious hunting, indirect allusion to the story of Jonah. These places, persons and stories were familiar to late medieval society as a whole, but could suggest the milieu of a churchman more particularly. Fisher (2005: 299–301) has also drawn attention to the poet’s possible knowledge of the early Irish genre of the immram, or ‘voyage-tale’, written in Gaelic and Latin, and long known by the learned (See also Gillies 2005: 57–8). In The Voyage of Máel Dúin, a man-eating monster and a supernatural herdsmen play prominent parts—these perhaps recalled in the threatening whales and the figure of the ‘pundlar’ in ‘Quha doutis?’—and in another, The Voyage of Snedgus, voyagers encounter Enoch and Elijah on paradisal islands (Fisher 2005: 300–301). The presence in ‘Quha doutis’ of these two, rapturously removed from earth before mortal death to dwell in the Earthly Paradise until the time when they would oppose Antichrist, links the poem to biblically-derived, imaginative and humorous traditions of allusion to the pair (See, for example, Land of Cokaygne, 13–14; Chaucer, House of Fame, 588; Lyndsay, Ane Dialog, 5184–5).

[11]  Equally, however, the poet of ‘Quha doutis?’ is aware of secular literary traditions, as is shown for example in the poem’s references to the ‘king of farye’.[3] These traditions also underlie the depiction of a strange otherworld, a place where there is disorientation and absurdity, yet also the seemingly familiar or homely (where, for instance, it is possible to see whales secured by tethers made ‘grit to graip’ of ‘sowlis of quhyte saip [swivels of white soap]’ (63–4). In this example and in the sense of the comic thus conveyed, the poet of ‘Quha doutis?’ demonstrates affinities with the authors of several (probably) contemporary examples also collected by Bannatyne, including ‘In Tiberus tyme the trew Imperiour’ (fols 136v–137r) and ‘Sym of Lyntoun’ (fols 142v–143r) and, more distantly, to those he calls ‘ballattis of impossibiliteis’, including ‘I ȝeid the gait wes nevir gane’ (fols 155v–156r) and ‘Quhen phebus in to the west rysis at morrow’ (fols 266v–267r). Dunbar and Douglas, both churchmen, were similarly knowledgeable. (See, for example, Dunbar 1998, ‘In secreit place this hyndir nycht’ (B 25), 51; and Douglas 1967; rev. ed. 2003, Palice of Honour, 1711–28).

[12]  For this period far fewer historical records remain than might be desired. From what survives, the monk-author of ‘Quha doutis?’could be Sir David Lichtone (d. 1503), clerk of the king’s treasury and archdeacon of Ross, who became abbot of Arbroath in 1484 (Innes and Chalmers 1848–56: II.xii, nos. 240 and 242; Watt and Shead 2001: 7; Macdougall 1982: 103, 254). His poem’s connection to the Bannatyne family might have been through the ‘Johnne Lichtoune burges of Edinburgh’, who was listed, with ‘Mr James Kincragy Dene of Abirdene’, as godfather to George Bannatyne’s father, James, born in 1512 (Ritchie 1934: I.cxlii). Nonetheless, there is here nothing of real substance. ‘Lichtoun’, in its various early forms ‘Lectun’, ‘Lighton’, ‘Lychtoun’, ‘Lichtoune’, ‘Leighton’, is not an unusual name (Black 1946); no references to Sir David as poet are known, and no light thereby is shed on the poem’s inclusion in MF.

[13]  Untitled in both manuscripts, the poem was referred to as Lichtoun’s Dreme by David Laing in the early nineteenth century (1822, 1826). This was continued by Hazlitt (Laing and Hazlitt 1895) and, shortened to Lichtoun’s Dreme, by later critics, but there is no evidence that either was the title given to the poem by its author. (Lewis 1954: 71 speaks of ‘the Dreme of “Lichtoun Monicus” ’; Fisher 2005: 292 of ‘Lichtoun’s Dreme’). The two words, together with the colophon, raise expectations of a spiritually enlightening vision, but this is far from the bathetic tendency of the poem. A first-line ‘title’ is preferable.

[14]  By the opening question, ‘Quha doutis dremis is bot phantasye?’, the poem indirectly establishes its own status as ‘phantasye’, a word then (as now) understood to mean a product of the imagination; an illusion; something close to a dream.[4] The poet’s opening might allude to Chaucer’s series of questions in the ‘Proem’ to his enigmatic dream vision, The House of Fame, but in its peremptoriness ‘Quha doutis?’ is at some distance from this more considered pondering of the causes and nature of dreams, and especially from the self-deprecatory comment (14–15)—‘I certeinly / Ne kan hem noght’ (Chaucer 1988: 348). Like Douglas’s ‘Of dreflyng and dremys quhat dow it to endyte?’, the opening line of ‘Quha doutis?’ sets up a challenge, distinguishing auditor from poet, who then moves, without preamble, from the waking state in which he issues the challenge to an exalted and extreme condition, the dreamer’s very being torn from him, his whole body prostrate, his waking wits departed: ‘My spreit was reft and had in extasye / My heid lay laich [low] in to this dreme but dout’ (2–3). These lines echo those of earlier and perhaps contemporary Scottish poets: Henryson, for example, describes Cresseid similarly in the Testament (Henryson 1981: 115), ‘…doun in ane extasie, / Rauischit in spreit, intill ane dreame scho fell’ (141–2). So, too, Douglas describes his (less energetic) response to a dazzling ‘impressioun’ (1967; rev. ed. 2003: 15) in the Prologue to The Palice of Honour: ‘…in extasie or swoun / … / As feminine so feblit fell I doun’ (106, 108). In his Direction at the end of the Eneados, he uses a very similar collocation to express to his patron Henry Sinclair the great impact that the subtlety of Virgil’s writing has had upon him, ‘My spreit was reft half deill in extasy’ (1957–64: IV.190, 106). The seriousness of the description in ‘Quha doutis?’ is called into question by the much less grand comment that follows, ‘At my foirtop my fyve wittis flew out’ (4). The dreamer has lost all his faculties, ‘outwert and inwert’ as John Ireland noted, ‘sycht, heryne, memore, fantasy, ymaginacioune, estymacioune and the laif’ (1926: I.64, 14–15). From this point, there is an ambivalence about whether the meaning and style of the earlier writers of dream visions are to be those of the poet of ‘Quha doutis?’ or to be points of departure.

[15]  Once introduced, this uncertainty is reinforced by the appearance of a figure, the ‘king of farye’, who has authority but does not offer guidance. True, his capture and imprisonment of the dreamer might have introduced a dream that contained a moral lesson, perhaps as a Macrobian somnium, an enigmatic dream concealing a truth requiring interpretation (Spearing 1976: 10) or, as it was for Cresseid, a sentence ‘[p]articipant of deuyne sapience’ (289), but this is not so in ‘Quha doutis?’ Uncertainty, often humorous, pervades narrative details: the dreamer tells how he is ‘band…fute and hand, / Withoutin reuth [pity]’, an insurmountable difficulty quickly undermined, since the means used for the cruel binding is an ineffective ‘lang raip of sand’ (8). The dreamer’s obstacles thereafter, and how he escapes them, are correspondingly ridiculous, although, because of some brilliant wordplay (to be considered later), for the brief space of his desperate struggles, almost persuasive.

[16]  The dream is made up of travels through non-linear time and many kinds of space—airy, solid, liquid—beginning with the unorthodox exit from prison (16–18):

I tuke my lytill tae into my mouth
And kest my self, rycht with ane mychtie bend,
Outthruch the volt and percit not the pend.

The subsequent journey everywhere hints at an educative experience, but what it delivers is closer to burlesque. There is, for instance, a seemingly symbolic use of numbers—the dreamer drinks from ‘ane well…drye sevin ȝeir’ (23); he is ‘sevin ȝeir tynt’ (57); to return to health he leaps three ‘lowpis’ (24); sees ‘thre quhyte quhailis’ in a meadow (60)—but their significance is cloudy. The full itinerary includes the otherworld as well as a choice of foreign, local, and biblical places, but they seem random (if often alliterating), non-systematic and discontinuous. A penitential journey is faintly suggested in the reference to ‘Portiafe [Port Jaffa]’, embarkation point for those on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, including Jonah, eaten by a whale (Boardman 1987: 77). A strange and exotic journey (after Alexander, or Mandeville) is signalled by the reference to that marvellous place, ‘Cowpland fellis’, ‘Quhair clokkis clekkis crawburdis in cokkill schellis [where beetles hatch crows in scallop shells]’ (31–2), which nonetheless is found in not far distant Cumberland, close to the monastic home of Cistercian monks (Wilson 1905: 174–8). Transition from one place, time, or state to another, effortlessly achieved, exposes the dreamer to apparent threats or injuries, but irrationally also to almost instant good health, youth, and wonders. Similarly dreamlike are the near-encounters (never quite interactions) with figures known by repute (Enoch, Elijah), or those unknown yet memorably distinctive (the poundkeeper with his griddle-feet cloak, ant skin coat, mill hopper hose, red copper shoes and club from a Noah’s ark plank). The late revelation of the dreamer’s inebriated state, far from belatedly excluding the poem from the vision genre, simply identifies the dream type, of which Trevisa provides a good description in his translation of Bartholomeus Anglicus’s De Proprietatibus Rerum—the kind of dream caused by ‘to moche replecioun’, as opposed to the ‘to grete fastinge’ associated with a hermit’s vision (1975–88, I: 336–37).

[17]  Yet ‘Quha doutis?’ is also a proposition for disputation. The poem’s structure reflects this: the main content (the dream), although inventively illogical, is the basis of the concluding proof, or authoritative determination, of the opening question. This sober solution is insecure, for it does not come from the expected learned source, such as a university master, or the kind of ‘cunning clark’ employed to answer the king’s questions in The Thre Prestis of Peblis (Robb 1920: 25.358, Charteris text), merely from ‘auld carlingis clames’ (89). Nonetheless the legal term ‘clames’ is in keeping with the idea of the poem as (mock) disputation (See DOST, clame, n. and, on the late medieval context, Durkan and Kirk 1977: 84-9).

[18]  ‘Quha doutis?’ has yet another mode, as the dream-type hints, that of a celebration of the role that drinking can have in the creative process. There is no testamentary lament as in King Hart (919), ‘My wyttis hes he [Rere Supper] waistit oft with wyne’ (Douglas 1967; rev. ed. 2003: 169); the poem jestingly charts the effects of drink, through the various stages of inebriation to the aftermath. As he sinks into stupor-‘extasye’ the dreamer describes how he ‘murnit’ and ‘maid a felloun mane’ (5); how he ‘flychterit vp with ane feddrem of leid [fluttered upwards with a plumage of lead]’, these few ineffective flappings belying the dreamer’s boast of a state of youthful vigour. There is his painful head, despite the soft obstacle; the requited yet unrequited thirst (the dry well) (23); the sea of brewer’s waste (34), negotiated without navigational aids; arrival at the earthly Paradise, yet hesitation to get deeply involved (43); the overbearing nearness of the moon (48); the clumsy attempt to catch and climb an illusory sunbeam (52–3); the fall and ‘seven-year’ sleep near the mint bush (54–5);[5] the psychedelic encounter with the threatening pundlar and man-eating whales (58–82); his flight and second fall (83–5); the unbecoming position in which he wakes (85–6), in symmetry with the poem’s beginning of ‘heid lay laich [low]’ (3); the genial command to the auditor, also neatly opposing the high seriousness of the opening question, to ‘gar fill the cop’ (89). A contemporary quatrain gathered by Bannatyne (fol. 145r), punning on the meaning of wit (as either blame or mental powers), looks (wittily) at a similar situation:

And thow be drunkin thow suld nocht think
To sett the wytt vpoun the drynk
Nor sett nocht the blame vpoun the wyne
Gif thow it drinkis the wytt is thyne

In ‘Quha doutis?’ it is consumption—of ale, but also of a ‘lytill tae’, water from a dry well, snow-roasted strawberries, the poundkeeper, and limpets—that is vital. Consumption is the source and contributes to the content of a particularly vivid dream; it is the means by which the role of ‘wytt’ or ‘wittis’ (absent or present) in literary creation is emphasized.

[19]  The poet’s imagination is indeed cause for celebration; ‘Quha doutis?’ is full of unexpected and equivocal images. Critics have noted the wintry Christmas-eve ‘fyre of snaw’ (42) at which Enoch and Elijah roast spring strawberries (see, for example, Hughes and Ramson 1982: 125; Bawcutt 1992: 258); other images, too, have an inventive oddness or changeability that calls to mind the modern-day hologram. One such is the image of the dreamer, having narrowly avoided hitting his head on the moon, taking a sunbeam in his fist and attempting to climb in, but being prevented from doing so because the sun is ‘in ane clips’ (52–3). Filled with both light and its absence, the image, especially the place of the dreamer within it, is difficult to ‘see’, yet striking.[6] The image of whales tethered ‘in ane medow grene’ (59) has a familiar quality, yet also elements of some bizarre magic, reminiscent of the ‘castis and…cawtelis’ (771) of the entertaining jay in Richard Holland’s Buke of the Howlat (Bawcutt and Riddy 1987). In that poem the jay magician is able to make the emperor ‘trowe and trewly behald’ (781), that the pound keeper has impounded the imperial horses because ‘thai ete of the corne in the kirkland’ (784). Lichtoun’s forbidding pundler outdoes this. He blows an ‘elrich horne’ and produces whales tethered, laughably, with the hair of green grasshoppers to the shin bones of midges (‘mige schankis’, 60–2). These teasing images stretch the imagination, but they also have credible explanations. The terrestrial paradise, known (theologically) to be high yet protected from changeable weather, with luxuriant, continuously fruiting plants, could be the only location for the strawberry/snow image; in turn this anomaly becomes confirmation that the dreamer has against all odds reached the Garden of Eden. (The Earthly Paradise in Hay’s Buik (1986-90: 176, III.16198-213) might be compared.) When the sun and moon are in conjunction, a solar eclipse is the result. The reported morning mist affects the tone of the pundlar’s horn and its eerie swirls produce white whale phantasms.

[20]  Sounds and smells also contribute to the special quality of ‘Quha doutis?’ There are moans, a storm, a horn blast, and the cacophonic noise of the pundlar’s metallic heavy garments and shoes. The modish antskin coat, made ‘in courtly wyse’ (69) with many folds or layers [‘plyis’], might smell of formic acid (See DOST, ply, n.1a). The poet perhaps also hints here at a delusory experience of the sense of touch—the fiendish torment of crawling insects—associated with what is now known as delirium tremens (See OED, n., delirium tremens). Sea smells percolate through the poem: mussels, whales, scallop shells, limpets, and there is as well a whole ocean of brewer’s waste.

[21]  The poet also delights in word play, proverbs and puns. In the description of the pundler’s cloak, ‘Of ganand graith of gude gray girdill feit’, there is a possible instance of grammatical play. If the girdill is an adjective, and feit a noun, then the cloak is said to be of a suitable kind of good cloth, made from the iron feet of a girdill, a griddle or circular baking plate. This is absurd, yet in keeping with the rest of the pundlar’s unconventional metallic dress. With alternative punctuation and syntax, girdill becomes the noun ‘girdle’, ‘waist-belt’; the word feit, an adjective with the sense ‘fitting’, ‘suitable’. Feit is not recorded in Scots use until the later sixteenth century, but it existed much earlier in Old French and Middle English (See OED, feat, adj. and adv).

[22]  By other kinds of wordplay the strange and humorous nature of the dream is further delineated. The walls of the dreamer’s prison are ‘mingit and maid with mussill teith’ (10), an impossibility of soft flesh; yet the hinged halves of the external shell do ‘bite’ when their internal ligaments contract and, packed together, the bi-valves could be a formidable barrier.[7] The ‘myir of flynt’ (11) and the ‘feddrem of leid’ (14), juxtaposing the swampily shapeless with the sharp, and the almost weightless with the indisputably heavy, are impossibilities that depict with economy the obstacles as they appear to be—to drunken vision and much-reduced agility. (Elsewhere, as has been noted, the binding of opposites produces absurdities and incongruities, as in ‘fyre of snaw’, ‘sowlis of…saip’.) The dreamer’s exit from prison by putting his little toe in his mouth (16) is a clue to the poem’s topsy-turvy logic, recalling a proverb (used often in varied forms by Gower and Lydgate): ‘The foot is not the head’ (Tilley 1950: F562; Whiting 1968: F465, 466). A slippery pun occurs near the end of the poem, within the throwaway line, ‘God and the rude mot turn it all to good’ (88), for rude in Older Scots could mean not only the cross as religious symbol, but a unit of measurement for wine (DOST, Rud(e), Ruid, n.1, and Rud, n.2). Alliteration is not strict in ‘Quha doutis?’ but the patterning is used frequently for emphasis, as in the prison description, the list of many disparate places visited, or in unexpected couplings such as ‘silkin schakillis’ and ‘quhyte quhailis’. It also acts as a loose continuous threading through the poem, contributing to the impression of incoherence: ‘foirtop’, ‘fyve wittis’, ‘farye’ ‘fute’, ‘flynt’, ‘feddrem’, for example.

[23]  ‘Quha doutis?’ is not a poem that has profound moral significance (unless the emphasis on the positive side of drinking to excess can be so classified). Comic in intent, the poem nevertheless makes adroit use of the traditions of serious dream literature and lightly draws on aspects of higher learning. The poem has a well-defined structure although the narrative is seemingly chaotic and disorienting: it opens with a question and has provided an answer, or perhaps an evasion of an answer, at its end. Where the poem makes its mark is in its invention—the poet’s skill in presenting the incredible as credible and the coherent as incoherent.

Australian National University


[1] Cf., for example, the changes made to the Bannatyne version of ‘the cursing of Schir Johine Rowlis’ at lines 77–9 with the MF version at lines 82–5, where the word ‘schryf’ is retained. (I am grateful to Priscilla Bawcutt who first noted the significance of this difference in a paper given at Leicester, 2008.) [back to text]

[2] See OED, rope, Phrases, 2, rope of sand and Erasmus 1982: I.371, no. 78 and notes. (Prof. A. A. MacDonald kindly drew my attention to this adage.) [back to text]

[3] References to the king and queen of farye are found, for example, in Henryson, Orpheus and Eurydice, 125–6; ‘Sym of Lyntoun’ (B, folios 142v–143r), 29–30; Dunbar, ‘Now lythis off ane gentill knycht’, 4–5; Lyndsay, Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis (1552), 3247–8. On Enoch and Elijah, see 2 Kings 2.11 (Elijah); Gen. 5.24 (Enoch) and Patch 1918; Lascelles 1936: 32–3.[back to text]

[4] See DOST, Phantasie, n. and cf. Douglas 1957–64: Eneados III, iii.47, ‘For this wes nowthir dreym nor fantasy’; and VI Prol. 17, 21, ‘ “All is bot gaistis and elrich fantasyis, /… / Lyke dremys or dotage in the monys cruke” ’. [back to text]

[5] DOST, Mint, Mynt, n.2, notes Lichtoun’s among early Scottish allusions; another is the entry in a glossary found in the Makculloch MS (Edinburgh University Library, MS Laing III.149), begun in 1477 with additions including the glossary in the early sixteenth century. [back to text]

[6] The image recalls the shifts in scale that occur when Philosophy appears (sometimes small, sometimes touching the heaven), Boece, Prosa I (Chaucer 1988: 398).[back to text]

[7] Mussels were objects of fantasy: Douglas’s list of magicians’ feats in his Palice of Honour includes the turning of a mussel into an ape (1967; rev. ed. 2003: 109, 1727); Stewart’s poem of impossibilities, ‘Furth ouer the mold’ also plays with mussels (B, fol. 266r, 41). [back to text]


Aitken, A. J. 1983. ‘The Language of Older Scots Poetry’, in Scotland and the Lowland Tongue. Studies in the language and literature of Lowland Scotland in honour of David D. Murison, ed. by J. Derrick McClure (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press), 18–49

Bannatyne, George, comp. c. 1568. Edinburgh, NLS Adv. MS 1.1.6

Bawcutt, Priscilla. 1976. Gavin Douglas. A Critical Study (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press)

—. 1989. ‘Elrich Fantasyis in Dunbar and Other Poets’, in Bryght Lanternis: Essays on the Language of Medieval and Renaissance England, ed. by J. Derrick McClure and Michael R. G. Spiller (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press), 162–78

—. 1992. Dunbar the Makar (Oxford: Clarendon Press)

Bawcutt, Priscilla and Felicity Riddy (eds). 1987. Longer Scottish Poems. Volume One. 1375–1650 (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press)

Black, George F. 1946. The Surnames of Scotland. Their Origin, Meaning, and History (New York: New York Public Library)

Boardman, John. 1987. ‘ “Very Like a Whale”—Classical Sea Monsters’, in Monsters and Demons in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds. Papers presented in Honour of Edith Porada, ed. by Ane E. Farkas et al. (Mainz on Rhine: Philipp von Zabern), 73–84 and pl. XXI–XXVI

Broadie, Alexander. 1990. The Tradition of Scottish Philosophy. A New Perspective on the Enlightenment (Edinburgh: Polygon)

Chaucer, Geoffrey. 1988. The Riverside Chaucer, ed. by Larry D. Benson et al. (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

Craigie, W. A. (ed.). 1919–37. The Maitland Folio Manuscript, 2 vols, STS 2nd Series, 7, 20 (Edinburgh and London: Blackwood)

Douglas, Gavin. 1967; rev. ed. 2003. The Shorter Poems of Gavin Douglas, ed. by Priscilla Bawcutt, STS 5th Series, 2 (Edinburgh: The Scottish Text Society)

—. 1957–64. Virgil’s ‘Aeneid’ translated into Scottish Verse by Gavin Douglas, ed. by David F. C. Coldwell, 4 vols, STS 3rd Series, 25, 27, 28, 30 (Edinburgh and London: Blackwood)

Dunbar, William. 1998. The Poems of William Dunbar, ed. by Priscilla Bawcutt, 2 vols. (Glasgow: Association for Scottish Literary Studies)

Durkan, John and James Kirk. 1977. The University of Glasgow 1451–1577 (Glasgow: Glasgow University Press)

Erasmus, Desiderius. 1982. The Collected Works of Erasmus [Volume 31]. Adages Ii1 to Iv100, trans. Margaret Mann Phillips; annot. R. A. B. Mynors (Toronto: University of Toronto Press)

Evans, G. R. 2004. Breaking the Bounds. An Inaugural Lecture given in the University of Cambridge 16 February 2004 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)

Fisher, Keely. 2005. ‘Eldritch Comic Verse in Older Scots’, in Older Scots Literature, ed. by Sally Mapstone (Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers), 292–313

Gillies, William. 2005. ‘The Land of the Little People in Medieval Gaelic Literary Tradition’, in Rhetoric, Royalty and Reality: Essays on the Literary Culture of Medieval and Early Modern Scotland, ed. by Alasdair A. MacDonald and Kees Dekker (Leuven: Peeters, 2005), 51–68.

Hay, Gilbert. 1986–1990. The Buik of King Alexander the Conquerour, ed. by John Cartwright, 2 vols (II and III), STS 4th Series, 16, 18 (Edinburgh and Aberdeen: STS and Aberdeen University Press)

Henryson, Robert. 1981. The Poems of Robert Henryson, ed. by Denton Fox (Oxford: Clarendon Press)

Holland, Richard see Bawcutt and Riddy, 1987

Hughes, Joan and W. S. Ramson. 1982. The Poetry of the Stewart Court (Canberra: Australian National University Press)

Innes, Cosmo and Patrick Chalmers. (eds). 1848–56. Liber S. Thome de Aberbrothoc, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: Bannatyne Club)

Ireland, John. 1926, 1965, 1990. The Meroure of Wyssdome by Johannes de Irlandia, ed. by Charles Macpherson, Craig McDonald and F. Quinn, 3 vols, STS 2nd Series, 19; 4th Series 2, 19 (Edinburgh, London and Aberdeen: Blackwood and Aberdeen University Press)

King Hart, see Douglas 1967; rev. ed. 2003

Laing, David. (ed.). 1822. Select Remains of the Ancient Popular Poetry of Scotland (Edinburgh: W. & D. Laing)

—. (ed.). 1826. Early Metrical Tales; including the History of Sir Egeir, Sir Gryme, and Sir Gray-Steill (Edinburgh: W. & D. Laing)

Laing, David and W. C. Hazlitt (eds). 1895. Early Popular Poetry of Scotland and the Northern Border, 2 vols. (London: Reeves and Turner)

Lascelles, Mary. 1936. ‘Alexander and the Earthly Paradise in Mediæval English Writing’, Medium Ævum, 5, 31–47, 79–104, 173–88.

Lewis, C. S. 1954. English Literature in the Sixteenth Century excluding Drama (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

Macdougall, Norman. 1982. James III. A Political Study (Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers)

Macfarlane, Leslie J. 1985. William Elphinstone and The Kingdom of Scotland 1431–1514. The Struggle for Order (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press)

Maitland Folio. c. 1570. Cambridge, Magdalene College, Pepys Library, MS 2553

Patch, Howard Rollin. 1918. ‘Some Elements in Mediæval Descriptions of the Otherworld’, Publications of the Modern Language Association, 33.4: 601–43.

Ritchie, W. Tod. (ed.) 1928–34. The Bannatyne Manuscript, 4 vols, STS 2nd Series, 22, 23, 26; 3rd Series, 5 (Edinburgh and London: Blackwood)

Robb, T. D. (ed.) 1920. The Thre Prestis of Peblis how thai told thar talis, STS 2nd Series, 8 (Edinburgh and London: Blackwood)

Sacro Bosco, Johannes de. 1482. Sphaera Mundi (Venice: Erhardt Ratdolt)

Spearing, A. C. 1976. Medieval Dream-Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)

Tilley, Morris Palmer. 1950. A Dictionary of the Proverbs in England in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press)

Trevisa, John. 1975–88. On the Properties of Things: John Trevisa’s Translation of Bartholomeus Anglicus’ “De Proprietatibus Rerum”: A Critical Text, ed. by M. C. Seymour et al., 3 vols (Oxford: Clarendon Press)

Watt, D. E. R. and N. F. Shead. (eds). 2001. The Heads of Religious Houses in Scotland from the Twelfth to the Sixteenth Centuries (Edinburgh: Scottish Record Society)

Whiting, Bartlett Jere and Helen Wescott Whiting. 1968. Proverbs, Sentences and Proverbial Phrases from English Writings Mainly Before 1500 (Cambridge, MA: Bellknap Press of Harvard University Press)

Wilson, James. 1905. A History of the County of Cumberland. Volume II. (Westminster: Archibald Constable for London University Institute of Historical Research)